EDITORIAL: Signing trash-to-ethanol deals is taking a chance

2012-06-21T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Signing trash-to-ethanol deals is taking a chance nwitimes.com
June 21, 2012 12:00 am

Just a few short months ago, municipal leaders and representatives who sit on the Lake County Solid Waste Management District Board were preparing to throw in the towel on Powers Energy of America and its proposed trash-to-ethanol facility. They should have done so then rather than dragging out this charade.

On Feb. 2, they found Powers in breach of contract for failing to secure the financing for the plant following more than three years of failed attempts to secure financing for the facility the company contracted with the waste district to build in Schneider. They gave Powers Energy 60 days to come up with the financing, a land deal and permitting. The district then gave him another 90 days at the end of that time period to correct the same issues.

Now, about 120 days later, Powers and officials of the waste district's professional staff are continuing this never-ending saga of futility, begging Lake communities to sign interlocal agreements that would pledge 20 years worth of trash to the yet-to-be-built or financed facility.

The worst part is, some municipal elected officials are unbelievably acquiescing to this plea, even though the company has yet to correct any of the contract provisions that some of those same municipal leaders say Powers Energy has breached.

Powers Energy officials have told municipal leaders they need those approved interlocal agreements in order to leverage financing for the $380 million-plus project from national financial firm, Raymond James.

But like the rest of the history of trash-to-ethanol in Lake County, the numbers and facts just don't add up. Powers and waste district officials claim the interlocal agreements are non-binding. In other words, communities would be able to send as much or little trash to the facility as they desire and could walk away from the deal without penalty.

If that is true -- and municipal attorneys have told The Times that appears to be the case -- it's difficult to fathom how any potential financier would accept a series of non-binding agreements as leverage for providing hundreds of millions of dollars in financing.

Some community leaders in municipalities including Munster, Dyer, Lowell and Merrillville don't seem to be concerning themselves with that. They have adopted the interlocal agreements, despite all of the red flags of lack of financing, lack of permitting and on-again, off-again land deals that have plagued this proposal for going on four years.

Powers has about 30 days left of a 90-day deadline to secure financing or risk losing his contract with the district. Lake County officials need to follow the lead of Griffith town officials, who rejected the interlocal agreement this past week. Schererville council members recently tabled the interlocal agreement -- and should leave it on the table in the wake of all of this uncertainty.

At least wait and see if Powers Energy owner and CEO Earl Powers can shore up his financing by the end of the deadline. He has proven zero ability to hold up his end of the contract with the county. Municipalities owe him nothing and should stop signing documents hitched to this disaster.

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